Genes, Peoples, and Languages

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9780713994865: Genes, Peoples, and Languages

Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza was among the first to ask whether the genes of modern populations contain a historical record of the human species. Cavalli-Sforza and others have answered this question—anticipated by Darwin—with a decisive yes. Genes, Peoples, and Languages comprises five lectures that serve as a summation of the author's work over several decades, the goal of which has been nothing less than tracking the past hundred thousand years of human evolution.

Cavalli-Sforza raises questions that have serious political, social, and scientific import: When and where did we evolve? How have human societies spread across the continents? How have cultural innovations affected the growth and spread of populations? What is the connection between genes and languages? Always provocative and often astonishing, Cavalli-Sforza explains why there is no genetic basis for racial classification.

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Review:

Jared Diamond says, "It would be a slight exaggeration to say that L.L. Cavalli-Sforza studies everything about everybody, because actually he is 'only' interested in what genes, languages, archaeology, and culture can teach us about the history and migrations of everybody for the last several hundred thousand years." Cavalli-Sforza has been the leading architect of a revolution (even a paradigm shift) in human genetics since the 1960s. Because of his work, geneticists no longer think that the human species is divided into color-coded races. Cavalli-Sforza's studies of the transmission of family names in Italy, of the relationship between human genes and languages, of migration and marriage, are the benchmarks of our biological self-understanding.

Genes, Peoples, and Languages is less personal than Cavalli-Sforza's preceding book, The Great Human Diasporas: The History of Diversity and Evolution. And it is far more compact than the magisterial The History and Geography of Human Genes (available abridged for those who prefer not to buy books by the pound). Instead, it is a an excellent overview of Cavalli-Sforza's many-faceted approach to human history and our present condition. It is that rarest of achievements, holistic without any trace of mushy-mindedness. --Mary Ellen Curtin

About the Author:

Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza was born in Genoa in 1922 and has taught at the Universities of Cambridge, Parma, and Pavia. He is currently Professor Emeritus of Genetics at Stanford University and is the author of The History and Geography of Human Genes.

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L. L. Cavalli-Sforza
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